‘Divergent': Ansel Elgort talks Caleb, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’

March 19, 2014 | 5:56 p.m.
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Ben Lloyd Hughes, Zoe Kravitz and Shailene Woodley in "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

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Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Ben Lamb, Zoe Kravitz and Jai Courtney in "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

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Shailene Woodley, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn and Ansel Elgort in "Divergent." (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

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Theo James, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller and Ben Lloyd Hughes in "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

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Shailene Woodley, author Veronica Roth and director Neil Burger on the set of "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

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Theo James, left, and Shailene Woodley in "Divergent." (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

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Shailene Woodley, left, and Theo James in "Divergent." (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

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Director Neil Burger, left, Jai Courtney and Theo James on the set of "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

“Divergent” is expected to be a blockbuster when it opens in theaters Friday, but for fans of the bestselling young adult book trilogy on which the film is based, it’s a chance to see author Veronica Roth’s dystopian future come to life on the big screen.

The film, directed by Neil Burger, is set in a future society where teenagers are tested and strictly divided into factions based on their personalities. Young heroine Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) discovers she is divergent, meaning she shows an aptitude for multiple factions, and she decides to join Dauntless, the faction based on bravery. But she’s not the only one to leave Abnegation, the faction that values selflessness, behind. Her brother Caleb, portrayed in the film by Ansel Elgort, chooses to join Erudite, the faction that values knowledge, and the decision pits him against his sister and his parents in a political battle.

Ansel Elgort arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of "Divergent." (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Ansel Elgort arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of “Divergent.” (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Elgort, who began his acting career onstage, appeared as popular jock Tommy Ross opposite Chloe Moretz in last year’s “Carrie” remake. He’s also portraying Augustus Waters, the male lead in another young adult book-based movie “The Fault in Our Stars,” based on the popular novel by John Green about two teenagers who meet in a cancer support group and fall in love. Woodley plays the female lead, Hazel Grace Lancaster.

Hero Complex sat down with Elgort to talk about “Divergent,” “Fault” and what’s next.

HC: What drew you to the role?

AE: Well, Caleb isn’t a leading man, which is interesting, because it’s easy to get pigeonholed in life, and that’s sort of what “Divergent” is about. Everyone wants to be divergent — you don’t want to just be stuck as one thing. So Caleb is not the leading man, and that’s kind of interesting. He goes through an arc. He makes questionable decisions. The audience doesn’t always love him.

HC: Were you apprehensive about playing somebody the audience wouldn’t like?

AE: No, of course not. You want to play characters like that sometimes. For me, actors that I’ve always been inspired by are actors like Tom Hardy and Christian Bale, because they play leading men in movies, and they play characters in movies, and they play villains. Like Christian Bale playing Batman and then playing the role he just played in “American Hustle.” That’s really what being an actor is, and I guess you want to be the most divergent actor you can be.

Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley in "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley in “Divergent.” (Summit Entertainment)

HC: There’s a beautiful scene in the film where Caleb and Tris are in the kitchen with their parents the night before the Choosing Ceremony.

AE: Yeah, that was my favorite scene.

HC: It was a touching moment. Where do you find that emotional truth? Do you draw from your own experiences?

AE: When you have Shailene Woodley and Tony Goldwyn and Ashley Judd in a room, you don’t need that much. They’re just all gonna bring it. You just try to be as realistic as you can. You put yourself in that moment, in that kitchen. It’s all real. We did it right after we did the scene at the dinner table where it’s a little more tight. It’s Abnegation, so you speak when spoken to when you’re a kid, and you know, I don’t think they show emotions that often. And there’s a moment there where Tony, the father Andrew, says something like, “Your mother and I, we love you either way.” And then it was like a great hug. It’s real, you know? Tony has kids, and he talked a lot about how that inspired him with the role. I have parents. You totally draw from that.

Shailene Woodley, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn and Ansel Elgort in "Divergent." (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

Shailene Woodley, Ashley Judd, Tony Goldwyn and Ansel Elgort in “Divergent.” (Jaap Buitendijk / Summit Entertainment)

HC: This was your first action film, correct? Did you enjoy that experience? Was your combat training limited since you’re playing a character in Erudite, not Dauntless?

AE: It was awesome, so much fun. I’m a kid, so it’s a lot of fun. I didn’t do any combat training. They’d give me a gun, and I’d get to hold the gun, but part of it was I didn’t want any training with it. Because at first, I was holding it one way, and the guy tried to tell me, “Oh, you have to hold it this way.” And I was like, “Would I know?” And he was like, “Oh, you’re right. You wouldn’t. Don’t worry about it, just hold it however you think.” So then we were always actually trying to make it look like I had no clue what I was doing.

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort in a scene from "The Fault in Our Stars." (James Bridges / 20th Century Fox)

Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort in a scene from “The Fault in Our Stars.” (James Bridges / 20th Century Fox)

HC: What’s next for you?

AE: Well, I just did a film with Jason Reitman ["Men, Women & Children"], I’m super happy about. I’m still coming off the excitement of that. I’d like to do a lot of films like that. I played someone who I was very different from. I learned a lot. There was a lot of great emotional content and great scenes.

HC: You say that the character was very different from you. Is there a character you’ve played that’s similar to you?

AE: You know, you just draw from yourself. So I’ve never played a character that’s really different from myself because it’s you at the end of the day who’s on camera. I haven’t played like a serial killer — that would probably be harder to draw from, for me at least. But for Tommy Ross, I pull out the jock in myself. I played varsity basketball. I throw away the artistic part of myself. You just take certain parts of yourself, and you say, “Oh this is the part I’m going to use, this is the part I’m going to throw away,” and you make the character that way. Because you’ve lived your life. I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve lived a lot of different sort of personas in my life just because I’ve played basketball and I’ve been an artist and I’ve been a ballet dancer, and I’ve been an actor and I’ve been a singer. So you use everything. That’s why you’re lucky to have it all.

So for Caleb, I take the part of myself that I’m a pretty driven individual, and I want to be successful, and I want to do things right. And I take away the silliness. Caleb’s not silly. Caleb doesn’t joke around too much. He’s pretty to the point, he’s logical, he knows what he wants. So I use that part of myself, so I’m familiar with that. With Augustus Waters, I’m a little bit theatrical. Augustus is theatrical. He is also very loving, and I am a Pisces, and I easily fall in love, and that is the part for Augustus that I pulled from. And for this most recent character in the Jason Reitman film, he’s obsessed with a video game, and he’s pretty depressed. And I remember being in seventh grade, and I hated my life. I mean, everyone’s been there at some point. No one’s ever loved their life from start to finish. So I think back to a moment when I was in seventh grade and I was bullied and everything sucked, and my character’s bullied in this movie, and you just have to pull that out of yourself. So yeah, I guess I can sort of relate to everyone I’ve played so far in different ways.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+

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